by Michael Millan
"Biiiiiiitch… I don't know your life,” he said as he marched off stage in full golden centaur regalia surrounded by glitter, roller skates and bad Australian accents, and just like that, my life was changed. I was a senior in high school and I was sitting on stage seeing Xanadu for the first time. The show was a favorite for me, not only because my voice sat really nicely on Cheyenne Jackson's dulcet tones, but because when I saw this show, I realized the kind of performer I wanted to be by watching Andre Ward.
If you were to google Andre Ward, you would see that he has done such hits as Something Rotten!, Saturday Night Fever and Rock of Ages. When I saw Andre in Xanadu, I knew that whatever I would do in my career, whether it be ensemble work, principal work, or swinging, I would put 100 percent into my show. Every time he went on stage, you could tell who he was, he had a character and was having so much fun doing it. From then on, I have made it a point to be like Andre and never go on stage without a purpose.
Since graduating college, I have had a good amount of opportunities to play these kinds of bit parts and I have always enjoyed it, because you have the blankest canvas to work off of. Especially when developing new works. If I didn’t have lines in a specific scene and I had to just cross from stage left to stage right, I wouldn’t just be me, Mike crossing the stage, because I do that all the damn time. Why should anyone pay money to see that? But if I take the opportunity to create a life onstage, it makes the whole job kind of magical.
Back in 2014, I auditioned for a lab of a new show with Broadway buzz. When I auditioned for it, it was called “The Jimmy Buffett Project." I was in a dance call with a bunch of Newsies and Cats and was doing the usual thing where I tell myself I will never be a dancer, and then I met our choreographer Kelly Devine, and she assured me that they weren’t looking for Newsies, they were looking for solid ensemble members that could play bit parts and sell the idea of the show, which celebrates good times, chill vibes and fun! From that moment on, I decided to stop beating myself up for not being a prima ballerina and instead focus on what I COULD do, which was make people laugh. The audition went really well, and it was one of those rare moments as an actor where I left the audition room and really thought, I did exactly what they asked of me and guess what… (Read as Valerie Cherish) I GOT IT!
I was cast as a member of the ensemble of Escape To Margaritaville alongside a great cast including the fabulous Andre Ward. It was one of those moments for me where I felt like the universe was shining directly down on me being like, “Ask and you shall receive, diva! The universe is watching you and gifting you a show with your performing idol.” Of course it took me a little bit of time to confess to Andre just how obsessed I was with him and I remember him almost not believing that he could be remembered from one bit part he did seven years prior, but it really goes to show you, when you see a performer that you love, that stuff sticks with you, no matter who they are playing in the show. The reading was a blast and the show was slated to open La Jolla Playhouse’s season a year later and eventually be on Broadway in 2018. I was lucky enough to get a few really nice features in the show, specifically a character named Jesus (Pronounced HAY ZEUS) and a bit part literally titled “Goon #1.”
Along with our genius director, Chris Ashley and our fantastic book writers, Greg Garcia and Mike O Malley, we were able to really play around and mold these bit parts into real people. Not just ensemble members in the background that have to move chairs, but actual living personalities on stage. It was honestly thrilling to feel like I was a small part of the show not just a dancing lobster in the back. Having people come up to me after the reading and recognize me as Jesus was thrilling and was a bit of validation that the audience was also getting an idea for my character even though I had a small number of lines and wasn’t crucial to the overall storyline. As we waited for a year for our offers to come in for La Jolla and ultimately for Broadway, I realized how exciting it was as an actor and comedian to be given the opportunity to really create a role, something that seldom happens as a member in an ensemble. In March of 2017, I got the call that I would be doing the La Jolla production and in July of that year, I was officially offered my Broadway contract! Making my Broadway debut alongside my performing idol in a show that I was a part of from its inception playing a small part that I helped create and mold! It all feels extremely badass and surreal, and I can't help but think that I would not have gotten this opportunity if I didn’t decide to truly seize the day (Newsies Forever) and take every opportunity possible to really perform the hell out of my small little part.